Madras Lentils is a delicious and satisfying vegetarian dish from Northern India. Full of bold flavors from ginger, cumin, chili powder, and more, this plant-based dish is easy to make and perfect for weeknights! 

What Are Madras Lentils

Madras Lentils are a less-spicy version of Dal Makhani—a North Indian (Punjabi) lentil and kidney bean curry. The lentils and beans are most often simmered in a creamy, spiced tomato sauce. Our version is a little less creamy than Dal Makhani, and uses a different type of lentil to make the dish more accessible.

Why This Recipe Works

We’ve taken creative liberties with this recipe for Madras Lentils. We took some notes from both Dal Maharani and Dal Makhani, and this Indian-inspired recipe is a compilation of the three recipe relatives. 

Most often, madras lentils are made with kidney beans and black glam or whole urad dal. For this recipe we opted to use black beluga lentils because they don’t require soaking before cooking and can be easier to find (depending on where you are). You can of course use black glam/whole urad, just be sure to soak the dry lentils 8 hours before using.

Occasionally, we like to add red bell pepper, like we did here. It’s not traditional and can absolutely be left out. Additionally, we do not call for adding jalapeño or Serrano, both would be a wonderful addition and, if using, should be added with the onions. 

And finally, many recipes for Madras Lentils call for half-and-half, cream, or coconut milk. The addition of cream of milk adds silkiness and richness—we find it muddles the flavors so we usually leave it out. If you want that added creaminess, add splash or two at the end of cooking or drizzle over individual servings.

overhead image of a lentil and bean stew in a white bowl set on a gray table with naan bread stuck in the bowl

Madras Lentils vs Dal Maharani vs Dal Makhani

Madras Lentils, Dal Maharani and Dal Makhani are close relatives to each other, sharing similar ingredients and cooking methods, they differ mostly in decadence and/or ingredient ratios.

Simplifying the differences in these dishes is not an easy task, but on the most basic level—Dal Maharani hails from Northern India and is most often a home-cooked dish, with slight variations from cook to cook. 

Dal Makhani is the restaurant version of Dal Maharani, featuring more cream and butter, making it decadent and creamy. 

And finally, Madras Lentils is an Americanized version of Dal Maharani which is slightly creamier in texture and often, though not always, features added cream. The popularity of madras lentils is largely credited to the convenient Tasty Madras Lentils pouch—an Indian spiced chili essentially.

overhead image of lentils, onions, peppers, garlic, spices, tomato paste, vegetable broth, beans and cilantro set on a gray counter

How to Make Madras Lentils 

A one-pot dish, this recipe comes together in an hour and requires very little hands-on time. Here’s how to make Madras Lentils on the stove-top. 

  1. Cook onion, pepper, ginger, and garlic in butter (or oil) until softened. 
  2. Add tomato paste and spices and cook 1 minute. 
  3. Stir in broth and lentils, bring to a simmer, decrease heat, partially cover and cook until lentils are tender. 
  4. Stir in beans, vinegar, and honey; season with salt and pepper and serve. 
  5. Optional: top Madras Lentils with cilantro and half-and-half or coconut milk.  

What to Serve Madras Lentils With

side angle mage of a lentil and bean stew in a white bowl set on a gray table with naan bread stuck in the bowl

More Lentil Recipes to Try

FAQs

I want to make this spicier, how do you recommend I do that?

Add a minced Serrano or two with the onion. For a more mild spice, add a jalapeño.

Can I make this recipe vegan?

Absolutely, use vegan butter or olive oil in place of the butter and use sugar instead of honey.

I have brown lentils, can I use those?

Yes, you can use brown or green lentils instead of black beluga lentils. Keep an eye on them towards the end of cooking, they will likely need 10 to 15 minutes less cook time than specified in the recipe. Do not use red lentils.

Watch How to Make Madras Lentils

Madras Lentils

Print Recipe
5 from 9 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Yield 5 cups (4 servings)
Category Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine Indian
Author Lauren

Description

Slightly smoky and spicy, this vegetarian lentil dish is hearty and bold. Serve with warm naan bread or over rice for a delicious and quick weeknight meal. 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala optional
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dry black beluga lentils
  • 1 (14-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Cilantro, canned coconut milk, naan bread and/or rice for serving

Instructions

  • Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven or medium-high heat. Add onion, pepper, ginger and garlic; cook until vegetables are softened, 4–6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    bell pepper and onion cooking in a Dutch oven
  • Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, garam masala, cumin, salt, paprika, and red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute.
  • Stir in broth and lentils, increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.
    broth being poured into a dutch oven
  • Stir in beans, vinegar, and honey; season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Serve lentils over rice or with naan bread, top with cilantro and a drizzle of coconut milk or half-and-half, if using.
  • Store lentils in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Video

Notes

Make it more traditional: You can use black glam/whole urad in place of the black beluga lentils, just be sure to soak the dry lentils 8 hours before using. Drain and rinse, and use as directed in the recipe. You can also leave out the red bell pepper and add a minced jalapeño or serrano. 
Lentil options: If you can’t find black beluga lentils, you can also use green or brown lentils. Decrease the cook time by 5 or 10 minutes and check it frequently towards the end of cooking. 
Make it vegan: use olive oil instead of butter and use sugar or maple syrup instead of honey. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1¼ cupsCalories: 214kcalCarbohydrates: 31gProtein: 9gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 951mgFiber: 9gSugar: 10g
Keywords Dal Maharani, Dal Makhani, Madras Lentils
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment below and tag @ZestfulKitchen on Instagram and hashtag it #zestfulkitchen!
overhead image of a lentil and bean stew in a white bowl set on a gray table with naan bread stuck in the bowl

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    My first lentil experience: A++! Just the right amount of spice and great texture. Gonna make some great leftover lunches this week.

    1. Yay!! I love hearing that. Lentils still surprise me every time I make them—they cook quickly and are so versatile. So glad you enjoyed the recipe! 🙂 Plus, the leftovers could easily be made into a soup with a bit of broth!

  2. Ok, this is now in perhaps my top 5 for side dishes. The depth of flavor, with jalapeño is addictive. Made for dinner last night and with scrambled eggs for breakfast today. Thanks for sharing. Game changing!

    1. Hi Tom, I’m over the moon to hear this is a top 5 side dish recipe! LOVE the idea of serving this with scrambled eggs for breakfast—I’ll be trying that!

  3. 5 stars
    Delicious! I made this without onion and garlic. Used garlic infused oil, chives and celery. I also roasted pepper before adding it. I used cooked, packaged lentil do not as much broth.

    Where did you get the sodium content?

    Thanks!

  4. 5 stars
    I love this recipe & keep making it over & over.
    I do usually add a can of crushed tomatoes just to enhance that flavor.
    Thank you!